Tampa Bay’s economy is in great shape. Just ask an architect.

Most expect demand for their services to rise this year.
Aerial photo of Armature Works and downtown Tampa last month.
Aerial photo of Armature Works and downtown Tampa last month. [ LUIS SANTANA | Times ]
Published Feb. 4, 2020

Architects don’t just draw pretty designs. They help select sites, bring development teams together and keep projects on budget.

They also provide useful intelligence about where the economy is headed. Architects get involved in projects early on, before a hole gets dug or concrete gets poured. If they are busy, that’s a sign of more development in the coming months and years.

Tampa Bay area architects are already busy and expect to get busier as the year progresses, according to a recent survey. Nine out of every 10 thought the development-related economy would be good or excellent in 2020. Most anticipated demand for their services to increase from last year. They also expected to hire more people. Translation: More construction cranes and bulldozers in 2020 and into 2021.

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The 71 survey respondents, all from Hillsborough and Pinellas counties, thought the health care, education and multi-family residential sectors would be the most active.

Angela Hendershot, a principal at Rowe Architects in Tampa, said her firm is “seeing a significant uptick in work.” The firm works primarily for the public sector, including the Pinellas and Hillsborough school boards. She noted that Hillsborough residents voted in 2018 to add a half cent to the sales tax to pay for school projects, which was expected to raise about $1.3 billion over 10 years.

“A lot of work we’re seeing is related to deferred maintenance,” said Hendershot, president of the Tampa Bay chapter of the American Institute of Architects, which helped sponsor the survey.

She is bullish about the year to come.

“All of our long-term projects seem to be progressing well,” she said.

Mickey Jacob, principal of the Design Studio at BDG Architects in Tampa, agreed that 2020 is setting up to be another good year. He said to expect more creative solutions for “attainable housing" — lower cost homes that cater to younger people starting their careers. Think less square footage, more density, fewer parking spaces and close to urban job centers.

Jacob said architects should take a lead role in explaining to developers, political leaders and the general public why these projects make sense for everyone.

“I think there’s going to be a very big push for these types of projects in the next two years,” he said. “We need to be at the forefront in leading the community discussion.”

Transportation was also top of mind among the survey respondents. They ranked it as the No. 1 development-related issue in Hillsborough, Pinellas, Pasco and Polk counties.

“If we’re going to continue to grow, transportation is going to be something we have to address completely as a community,” Jacob said. “That comes from the political side, the business side and the civic side.”

Other findings from the survey:

  • A strong majority — 76 percent — thought our political leadership would effectively lead smart growth in 2020.
  • On the other hand, only a little more than half thought there was a clear vision for growth in the Tampa Bay area.
  • More than 90 percent said recruiting and hiring new skilled workers was getting more difficult.